Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Crossing the Line

1825 engraving by the English artist George Cruikshank depicting a typical crossing the line ceremony in the Royal Navy

The museums’ latest exhibit is Crossing the Line: Unofficial Traditions of the U.S. Navy. Nobody knows exactly when the crossing the line ceremony started, but the first documented instances can be found in the accounts of French sailors from the early sixteenth century. As European powers became interested in overseas exploration, their ships crossed the equator with increasing regularity. A number of traditions sprang up to mark the first time a sailor crossed over 0° latitude. These early ceremonies were comprised chiefly of two parts: a religious ceremony of thanksgiving, and an initiation that marked the transformation of inexperienced sailors into trusted crew members. The participants were put on trial, both in the literal sense during the ceremony, and in the figurative sense because the ritual was partially a test of their strength and resolve. By the mid-sixteenth century, sailors had begun to regard it as an ancient right that they baptize those who had not been over the equator before, and they did so by blacking themselves and dressing up in costumes. Many at that time believed that anyone of another race who crossed the equator would become an African. The ceremony not only served as an initiation ritual, it also reflected Europeans’ curiosity about the rest of the world and the superstitions they held about it.

King Neptune and his court in a crossing the line ceremony from 1953

The elements of the ceremony have undergone some modification over time and vary a little between nations, but a few components tie them all together. The sailors to be initiated are referred to as Pollywogs while the experienced crew members who plan and conduct the ceremony are known as Shellbacks. A group of Shellbacks, usually the highest ranking enlisted sailors, dress up as King Neptune and his assistants. Once the ship has crossed the equator, the Pollywogs receive a summons to appear before King Neptune’s court. There they are accused of various farcical misdeeds and are given punishments that must be endured in order to attain the title of Shellback. These punishments were originally quite rough and included beatings, throwing the victims overboard, and dragging them through the water. As late as the mid-twentieth century, Pollywogs could still find themselves covered in garbage and rotten food or being poked with electrified pieces of metal. Over time, the hazing aspects of the ritual have been toned down with greater emphasis placed on building camaraderie among the crew and celebrating a rite of passage shared by sailors all over the world.

Shellback certificate earned by CAPT H. Kent Hewitt while in command of USS Indianapolis (CA 35). President Franklin Roosevelt was on board during this cruise to attend the Pan-American Conference in Buenos Aires.
Naval War College Museum Collection
NWCM.1973.01.49

Having passed the test, Pollywogs receive certificates that announce their initiation into the Ancient Order of Shellbacks or the Ancient Order of the Deep. The next time they cross the equator, they will be the ones putting their inexperienced shipmates to the test. Other landmarks now have similar rituals to accompany their passage including the Arctic Circle, Antarctic Circle, International Date Line, Panama Canal, and Cape Horn.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Who helped raise the flag on Mt. Suribachi?

Last week, a special committee convened by the Marine Corps reignited an ongoing debate about the identities of the men pictured in the iconic WWII photograph of the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi. The committee met to consider evidence that suggested one of the men in the photo had been misidentified. After examining other film and photographs taken that day, the committee concluded that the second man from the left was Private First Class Harold Schultz, and not Pharmacist’s Mate Second Class John Bradley as previously believed. Schultz did take part in the first flag raising that day, but he died in 1995 having never spoken publicly about participating in the more famous second flag raising that was immortalized by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal.
Photograph by Joe Rosenthal with PFC Harold Schultz highlighted
Image courtesy of USA Today

These developments illustrate how difficult it can be for historians to reconstruct the past. Even with movie cameras and photographers present to document one of the most iconic moments of the twentieth century, we have not managed to establish with 100% certainty who was present at the top of Mt. Suribachi on 23 February 1945.
Plaster model of Iwo Jima memorial by Felix de Weldon
76.47.01

Sculptor Felix de Weldon used Rosenthal’s photograph as the basis for the United States Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, VA.  De Weldon produced 36 plaster studies of the six men raising the flag before finishing the full size monument. Fortunately for the Naval War College, he worked in Newport and donated three of the studies to the Museum in 1973. One is currently on display outside Spruance Auditorium. The nine and a half years he spent working on the monument left de Weldon feeling a profound connection with the men whose images he had worked so hard to capture in bronze. At the dedication for the memorial in 1954, he told the audience that

To put my true feelings into words would be beyond my own powers of expression. I am sure it is not necessary to “tell it to the Marines.” Work on this statue has been almost my entire life these past years and now that it is finished, I am afraid that I shall feel lonely and a little lost. A sculptor does not work with words. His medium is bronze or stone and through this medium I have expressed my true feelings for the Corps and for those who died fighting with the Marines since 1775.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sino-Japanese War prints

Today’s post highlights one of our recent acquisitions from a conflict that doesn’t get much attention in the United States. Recently, we were fortunate to receive a donation of eight Japanese woodblock prints showing scenes from the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). This event was an important conflict in Japanese history that marked Japan’s emergence as a modern military and industrial power in the late nineteenth century. China’s defeat and subsequent loss of influence over Korea signaled a shift in regional dominance and foreshadowed future conflict with the expanding Japanese empire.

click to enlarge

The Sea Battle Victory at Hioake Yama, c.1894
Ogata Gekko (1859-1920)
Woodblock print, ink and color on paper
The largest naval engagement of the war took place on 17 September 1894, one day after a Japanese victory on land at the Battle of Pyongyang. The Chinese faced a difficult problem in attempting to reinforce their army. Given the poor condition of the roads, the only practicable way to move a large body of troops and supplies was by sea. Doing so, however, would force the Chinese to risk their best ships in battle. The newest vessels were bigger and more heavily armed than their Japanese counterparts, but they suffered a significant disadvantage in speed. For this reason, they usually avoided open water where the quick Japanese ships would have the greatest advantage. Nevertheless, the Chinese ruler, the Guangxu Emperor, ordered his fleet to push back the Japanese and keep the coastal routes safe. After completing a convoy escort, the Chinese encountered an attacking Japanese force late on the morning of the 17th near the mouth of the Yalu River.

Deficiencies in ammunition and training also limited the effectiveness of the Chinese fleet. Signaling confusion and poor seamanship resulted in the Chinese starting the battle in a wedge formation rather than a line, their preferred tactic. Seeing this, Admiral Ito Sukeyuki ordered his fleet to split into two columns and circle around behind to engage the weakest Chinese ships. Using their speed to avoid incoming fire, the Japanese sank five ships and damaged three while suffering only four heavily damaged of their own. The remnants of the Chinese fleet retired to their base at Lüshunkou for repairs and were later destroyed in a combined land and naval attack.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

100th Anniversary of the Battle of Jutland

Painting of the Battle of Jutland showing the opening battle cruiser action
Oil on canvas by Claus Bergen

From 1919-1935, the Battle of Jutland received an abundance of scholarly attention at the Naval War College. Lieutenant Junior Grade Holloway H. Frost produced a report on Jutland in November 1916 that became the standard work on the subject for students at the College. He later expanded his study to a book that was published posthumously in 1936. Visiting lecturers from Great Britain and Germany, some of whom had served at Jutland, traveled to Newport to weigh in on the controversies surrounding the battle. Students also spent a significant amount of time playing war games during this period. Most classes in the interwar years participated in three major games as part of their studies: a hypothetical war with Japan (ORANGE), a hypothetical war with Great Britain (RED), and a historical battle. Jutland and Trafalgar were the two most gamed historical battles and, more often than not, faculty and staff chose to game Jutland as the historical battle, especially in the decade following World War I. After studying the battle in the classroom, students replayed the action using war gaming models and debated with one another about which side maneuvered more effectively. Each student then wrote a paper in which he presented his conclusions and identified lessons to be learned.

In general, the students covered the battle in comprehensive fashion for the first eight years after the battle, devoting most of their time to analyzing the tactics employed by both fleets. Beginning in 1925, the paper topics became narrower and more focused, presumably because the overall events of the battle were well known by that point. General discussions also suffered from the fact that student research was confined to the same set of sources found in the Naval War College library. The result was that from year to year, students reached similar conclusions and tended not to advance any truly new viewpoints for discussion.

U.S. Navy doctrine of that era emphasized offensive action as the preferred mode of warfare.  Naval War College students thus came down harshly on Jellicoe for acting too cautiously during the battle. Many blamed him for turning away from the High Seas Fleet at the critical point in the battle, allowing it to escape. They also faulted him for exercising rigid control over the Grand Fleet and failing to encourage his subordinates to act on their own initiative. Most students commended Beatty for his aggressive maneuvering while engaging the German battlecruisers, though they also recognized that he failed to report critical information to Jellicoe. Scheer received criticism for reversing course multiple times, a maneuver considered to be indecisive.

Chart from The Diagrammatic Study of the Battle of Jutland (1921) by LCDR Holloway H. Frost

The most common criticism offered by the students was that British Admiral Jellicoe acted too cautiously. Reflecting the idea of the decisive battle that featured prominently in the Naval War College curriculum, the consensus was that Jellicoe could have destroyed the High Seas Fleet if he had acted with an offensive rather than defensive mindset. Many students also questioned German Admiral Scheer’s decisions, especially his turn back towards the Grand Fleet after the first battle turn away, though in general they felt that the Germans exhibited more spirit in the attack than did the English.

In later years, focus shifted to the various components of the fleets and how they were used. Between 1925 and 1931, the actions of the destroyers on both sides received a good deal of scrutiny. Student opinion ran almost universally against the British on this subject, with most arguing that the Royal Navy wasted its destroyers in a defensive role and had no real doctrine governing their use. The Germans again received more favorable commentary for at least using their destroyers to attack, even more so because their attacks were coordinated to support Scheer’s battle turn away from the British line.


By the mid-1930s, naval technology had advanced to the point where the tactics employed at Jutland no longer held much relevance. Study at the tactical level began to drop, but interest in the strategic lessons to be learned remained high. Students writing during this period began to back away from the generally positive commentary that earlier classes offered on the German navy. Many argued that while individual German ships were technically superior to their British counterparts, the German high command never articulated a coherent strategy for the High Seas Fleet's use.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Telebus Comes to the Naval Training Station

Photos of Naval Training Station Newport during World War II are always fun for us to look at, as we never know what they will teach us about the past. Sometimes they reveal bits of Newport’s history that have been forgotten, like a building that no longer stands or a course that is no longer taught. One photo we recently received shows how the Navy came up with an innovative way to ensure that its sailors stayed in touch with their friends and families back home.
New England Telephone & Telegraph Company telebus
Official U.S. Navy photograph
NTS Newport underwent an enormous expansion starting even before the United States entered the war. Funding for new construction on the base came through in June 1941. After Pearl Harbor, the Secretary of the Navy approved an expenditure of $10,000 for new housing and mess facilities. The number of recruits on base rose from 2,800 to 8,600 in little more than a month. Many of these men lived in Quonset huts that were set up as temporary housing on Coddington Point. Though they met the basic needs, Quonset huts were never meant to provide the modern conveniences of life.

Though most sailors were limited in their contact with the outside world during training, the officers in charge of NTS Newport did try to allow recruits to make occasional phone calls home. But how to do this in an age before cell phones and the internet? The answer was to bring the phones to the sailors. The New England Telephone Company had a fleet of buses with phone banks inside that could be connected to local phone lines. These “telebuses” drove to wherever they were needed, hooked up their phones, and welcomed callers to come onboard. Originally intended to support large public gatherings, events, and celebrations, the telebuses were the perfect solution to the Navy’s problem. As long as the men weren’t expecting to have a private conversation, of course!
Sailors waiting their turn to use the telebus
Official U.S. Navy photograph
Telebuses survived long after the war and were used at the Newport Jazz Festival as late as 1957. New England Telephone merged with other companies and changed names several times over the years, but its survives today as part of Verizon Communications.

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum Curator

Friday, May 6, 2016

HMS Endeavour in the news

HM Bark Endeavour Replica
Operated by the Australian National Maritime Museum

Newport made the news earlier this week with the announcement that researchers from the Rhode Island Marine Archeology Project are getting very close to discovering the wreck site of HMS Endeavour in Newport Harbor. Endeavour gained fame as the ship that Lieutenant James Cook commanded on a three year voyage of scientific discovery in the Pacific Ocean. Among other stops, Cook visited Hawaii, New Zealand, and the east coast of Australia from 1768 to 1771. Although he did not find the fabled continent of Terra Australis that was part of the reason for his voyage, he did record the locations of several Pacific islands on European maps for the first time.

The Royal Navy sold off Endeavour in 1775, but shortly after the outbreak of war in the American colonies, the Admiralty found itself in need of more ships to carry supplies across the Atlantic. Endeavour’s owner renamed her Lord Sandwich and sold her back to the navy, which promptly changed the name to Lord Sandwich 2 since another ship already carried the original designation. She set out in a fleet of 100 vessels from Portsmouth, England in May 1776 carrying two companies of Hessian soldiers bound for New York. Shortly after New York fell to the British, they occupied Newport which became the home of Lord Sandwich 2 for the next two years. Her end came in 1778 when she was scuttled along with twelve other ships in an attempt to stop the French navy from entering Newport Harbor.

Wood fragments from HMS Endeavour
75.05.04

The search for the wreck of Endeavour has produced a fair amount of confusion for historians over the years. We have in our collection a few small pieces of wood from La Liberté, a French whaling ship that ran aground in Newport Harbor in 1793. When these pieces came to the Museum in 1954, it was thought that La Liberté was the renamed ship that had originally been Endeavour. Parts of La Liberté found their way to museums all over the world and even flew on the Space Shuttle! Years later, new evidence suggested that La Liberté was actually another of Cook’s ships, HMS Resolution. Cook made his second and third voyages to the Pacific in Resolution and was so impressed with her performance that he declared her “the ship of my choice.” So, while we may not have any artifacts from Endeavour as we originally thought, these scraps of wood form an 18th century wreck in Newport represent another possible connection with Captain James Cook.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Friday, March 4, 2016

Mystery Solved! A Lost Print Resurfaces

Miraculosa Victoria à Deo Christianis Contra Turcas Tributa
Engraving by Giacomo Franco, 1517-1610?
1973.07.01

If you’ve ever watched the TV show Mysteries at the Museum, you know that museum collections occasionally contain puzzles for the staff who maintain them. Artifacts donated decades ago sometimes lack information about what they are or who owned them. They can be mislabeled, misplaced, or mistaken for another artifact. As time passes, the circumstances that led to the dilemma in the first place become more difficult to pinpoint. We at the Naval War College Museum are happy to report that we recently solved one of our own collection mysteries involving one of our oldest artifacts, a four hundred year-old Venetian print of the Battle of Lepanto.

Detail of Miraculosa Victoria à Deo Christianis Contra Turcas Tributa

The story begins in 1973 when the Naval War College Foundation purchased a copy of Giacomo Franco’s Miraculosa Victoria à Deo Christianis Contra Turcas Tributa for deposit at the Museum. The print, published sometime between 1571 and 1610, depicts the victory of the Holy League over the Ottoman Empire at Lepanto on 7 October 1571. This battle halted the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Europe and was the last major naval engagement in the Mediterranean fought entirely between galleys.

Museum records indicate that the print went on temporary exhibit shortly after its arrival. Once that exhibit ended, the print went back into storage where it seems to have disappeared with no detailed or accurate location ever recorded. No current staff member could recall seeing it in the last two decades. Recognizing the historic value of a print this old, we initiated a search of our collection storage area as well as the Naval War College campus. Until recently, those efforts yielded no results. That changed on Thursday, 18 February, when our Collections Manager, Walter Nicolds, found the print buried in a flat file drawer while conducting an inventory of our collection storage facility! Thanks to his sharp eye, this valuable piece of art is now being tracked and stored in accordance with museum standards.
Walter Nicolds, Naval War College Museum Collections Manager
holding Giacomo Franco's print of the Battle of Lepanto

In addition, further research revealed that the engraver was misidentified when the print first arrived. It was originally attributed to “Ferrando and Ferdinando Beretelli” of Venice. This seems to be a reference to the Venetian printmaker Ferrando Bertelli (also known as Ferdinando) who produced a well-known painting of the battle that hangs in the Vatican Museum. It may be that our print was mistakenly identified as a reproduction of that painting. When we matched our copy with others that reside at libraries in Italy and Portugal, we confirmed that Giacomo Franco was the engraver. Now that we have the correct artist and location in our computer system, we plan to be extra diligent to ensure that our records remain up to date!
Ferrando Bertelli painting of the Battle of Lepanto

Rob Doane
Naval War College Museum Curator